Over the past few months, I have spent a lot of time thinking about who I am. I have spent years, well, my whole life really, figuring out who I am, what makes me tick. What are those defining moments that changed the course of my life? Who would I be without them? We always joked in my family that people probably thought my siblings and I were adopted. My brother, Ben, is a redhead. My sister, Emily, is a blonde. And then there's me, the brunette. We all have vastly different personalities as well. My parents raised us all the same way, we had the same rules (mostly...things may have been a little different for my brother because he was more of a "wild child," as wild as we ever got anyway), and all still adhere to the same morals and values. My brother is adventurous and busy. He spent several summers working at day camps in other countries, and still takes many trips to go backpacking, kayaking, anything outside. He has a million hobbies and is always doing something. My sister is happiest sticking close to home. She spends most of her time with her husband and kids, and likes it that way. I'm not sure even one of her hobbies and my brother's intersect. I fall somewhere in the middle, which is sort of the way it's always been. I would love to travel more, and a good chunk of my weekends are spent visiting friends in other cities/states, but I also enjoy my weekends at home. I tend to be happy doing whatever someone else suggests.
So how did we end up so different? How did they end up going to school for education, which my parents both did as well, while I ended up going to school to figure out what makes people tick, and to help those who cannot help themselves? I think I really would have enjoyed teaching as well, but something pulled me into the social services field. As I considered this, I thought about those defining moments. One stuck out in my head. I'm sure it's not the only one, but it was certainly a moment I will never forget. And not in a good way.
I didn't have a very good middle school career. I know, I know. Everyone says middle school sucked, things were horrible, it's that awkward stage, blah blah blah. But seriously, it was terrible. I was the fat girl. I got made fun of a lot. My nickname was "Rena the Rhinoceros." Kids can be incredibly cruel, especially in a small school where you don't fit in. In seventh grade, I was in a year-long feud with my best friend. I read an old journal I kept during that time and in it I wrote that I could write an entire book about my year in seventh grade. I wouldn't necessarily go that far, but there are surely several short stories that could be told.
During this year, I became friends with a girl named Karla. She was more popular, and I felt special to be included in her world. She had a crush on my brother, though he was six years older, and I wonder sometimes if that is why we became friends. I guess it doesn't really matter. I thought she was my best friend. My new best friend, since the old one was going around telling things about me she swore to never tell. (To be fair, I wasn't being much nicer to her. Like I said, kids can be cruel.) During one of our study halls, a group of girls would get together and go to the counselor's office just to hang out and chat or whatever. It was a super cool thing to get to do, and we made a pact that anything that was said in there would not be repeated to anyone not in the room. One day, we went, and Karla got up to go to the bathroom or get a drink or something, and the other girls launched into all these things about her that bugged them. Before she got back, they reminded me that I wasn't to say anything since she hadn't been in the room at the time. I kept my mouth shut, though I was torn between sharing with my friend and the sacred confidentiality of the group.
But Karla knew. She knew things had been said, and she got angry. After PE one day, she started yelling at the other girls, telling them that I told her everything they said. I hadn't, so I was shocked that she said so. I approached her and quietly said, "Karla, I told you I couldn't tell you..." And she went off. "You are so pathetic!" she screamed. "People call my house and ask why I'm friends with you. I'm tired of it! Leave me alone, we are NOT friends!" And she slammed out of the locker room, leaving me standing there, stunned. I was frozen for a few seconds, and then made my own escape to the bathroom down the hall. I cried harder than I ever had, more than when the boys made fun of me and told me I was going to break the playground equipment, more than when my siblings were mean to me, more than I did even when my former best friend let her friend yell at me about how fat I was.
Band was next. With puffy eyes, I entered the band room, and could feel the eyes on me. Karla sat across the row, studiously ignoring me. Halfway through putting my instrument together, I broke down again and asked to be excused to use the restroom. The band instructor took one look at me and let me go. I stayed there the rest of the time. I sat through that period and through choir. I don't remember much after that. Only the really strong memories stay with you, I think. I think Karla tried to apologize, and I refused it. I can't be sure if that's a real memory or not though, because I often retreated to my head when I was upset and came up with scenarios of what I would do in different situations.
I'm not sure why I feel the need to share this painful memory. I guess to illustrate my point. I wish I could go back and tell that little girl that it's okay, that things will get better, that not all people are like that. But at the same time, I still have parts of that little girl in me. The parts that tell me I'm pathetic some days. The parts that make it hard for me to trust people, and easy to believe that they are just using me. It's why I get offended very easily, and am a little paranoid at times. It's the reason I use humor to cover up the worst parts of me, to take the focus off the parts of myself I am ashamed of.
That moment, and the many others like it, have helped to make me who I am. Though I call it a defining moment, I refuse to let it define me. Without times like that, I'm not sure I would be as compassionate as I am. I can relate to my clients on a different level, to be in the moment with those who have been hurt, and to help those who are doing the hurting to relate to their victims. Is it difficult at times? Absolutely. I see so much of myself in some of my clients it's almost scary. But I think it makes me better at my job, and better able to handle adversity in life. A little part of me will always be "Rena the Rhinoceros." But what I'm learning is to embrace that part of me as much as any other part, to learn from it instead of running from it.
Life is an adventure. Life is a lesson. Life is living. So live.